(LAMJUNG, Nepal) — When a massive avalanche swept over a camp of sleeping mountain climbers on one of the highest peaks in the world, Glen Plake of California was one of the lucky ones.
At least nine people were killed in the avalanche and another six are missing, swept away and buried under tons of snow and ice on Sunday. Ten climbers survived, but many of them were injured.
Plake was on Nepal’s Mount Manaslu, the world’s eighth-tallest peak, when the avalanche struck about 4 a.m. It roared through a group of tents at Camp 3 where about two dozens climbers were sleeping.
“We won the lottery with this one,” Plake’s father, James Plake, told ABC News. “Glen does this kind of stuff all the time so we are always worried, but he called us instantly with this one, called Kimberly [wife], and said ‘whatever they say on the news I am alive and I’m ok.'”
Other survivors describe a brief and terrifying few seconds, and then a darkness that slowly lifted to reveal a landscape of scattered bodies. The dawn brought a scene of mayhem.
Eric Simonson, owner of International Mountain Guides out of Washington state, had a party of campers that went to the rescue.
IMG’s team at Camp 2 climbed 2,000-plus feet to help rescue survivors, who had lost most of their gear, including boots, on the frigid mountain. The avalanche struck at an altitude of 23,000 feet, just short of the 26,760-foot peak.
“Our guides were part of the team that responded to search for survivors and also evacuate the injured people,” Simonson said. “They assisted locating and digging out the survivors and the remains of the dead and then also coordinating the helicopter flights.”
Helicopters circled overhead searching for survivors or bodies.
“Our understanding is the avalanche was triggered by a large ice wall collapse,” Simonson said. “In this case you have an ice wall weighing probably thousands of tons collapsing in a snowstorm that makes the snow move.”
Simonson said the availability of “very powerful” AS350 B3 helicopters that can function in the thin air that high up the mountain was essential to saving more lives.
“They’re quite remarkable,” Simonson said. “Had this happened a year or two ago it would have been impossible to fly to the site of the avalanche.”
“The helicopters were able to come in and evacuate the people directly from there, so they didn’t have to find boots, clamp-ons, climbing gear or things they would have needed to climb down,” Simonson said. “So that was fortuitous.”
A total of 231 climbers and guides were on the mountain but not all were at the higher camps hit by the avalanche.
The avalanche came at the start of Nepal’s autumn climbing season, when the end of the monsoon rains makes weather in the high Himalayas unpredictable.
IMG’s team is safely back at the base camp and is trying to decide if they should try the climb again or call it quits, Simonson said. This was the first time a team from IMG has climbed Manaslu.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Andreas Preuss and Joe Sutton, CNN
Kevin Liptak, CNN
Dave Gilbert, CNN
Steve Visser and Masoud Popalzai, CNN